Time Out meets Dubai Ski Club

It's all going downhill for members of a desert ski club

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‘Skiing is about as important in Dubai as camel racing is in Austria.’ Honest words from Andreas Teufl, an Austrian former ski instructor who runs Dubai Ski Club. True, the huge monolith jutting out of Mall of the Emirates, which houses the Middle East’s first indoor ski slope, has garnered worldwide attention since it opened to much fanfare six years ago. But the middle of a desert remains the last place you’d expect to find skiers pulling on winter coats and goggles before slaloming down the piste.

Andreas admits he thought his regular skiing days were over when he arrived in Dubai. The 47-year-old moved – somewhat reluctantly – to the UAE with his German company in 2001. ‘I didn’t want to move to a hot country,’ he admits. ‘One of the conditions of me taking the job was that I’d be allowed to go back to Austria a lot to ski.’

Yet four years later, Ski Dubai rose out of the sand and Dubai Ski Club soon followed, giving UAE skiers the chance to attend race meetings and social events. Last year, Andreas took over the club, which has more than 1,000 members, up to 250 of which are active. ‘Initially, it was more of a social club to ski together and go to parties,’ says Andreas. He’s wearing a T-shirt bearing the club’s logo (fittingly, a camel wearing skis). ‘But when we took it over last year, we saw a definite transition for the club. We co-operate closely with Ski Dubai. They teach people to ski and we help them to practice what they’ve learned through races and training. Some people start because they are just interested in learning something different. Some join with friends and some are really keen. The talent level is just the same here as it is in Austria – we have some really excellent skiers.’

One of the most surprising aspects of the club is its international appeal. ‘We have about 40 different nationalities within the club,’ explains Andreas. ‘Most are European, but one of our keenest members is Australian. We also have Moroccans, Iranians, people from Iraq, Turkey, Serbia and lots more. We take them on trips to other countries about twice a year.’

The club meets on the last Saturday of every month, except during July and August. Instead, in the hotter months, it hosts a Summer Cup of individual slalom races for members and non-members at the end of June and the end of September (the next event is on June 25). One of the most popular events is the Team Ski World Cup, in which club members race for their home country against rival members from across the globe, with national pride at stake. The UAE now counts itself among the teams in the competition, which, according to Andreas, shows how the sport is growing in popularity here. ‘We get about 15 or 16 teams,’ he explains. ‘Last year there was a UAE team for the first time – it is getting more popular with Emiratis. After five years of having this ski dome here, a lot of UAE nationals have taken up skiing. Some have never skied anywhere else. We have two or three very talented skiers from the UAE, one of whom wants to train to be an instructor next year.’

And it’s not just the adults that are getting in on the action. ‘We have good kids here – their potential is amazing,’ says Andreas. ‘They are the future of the club. Our biggest goal is to create a kids’ racing team – we are doing everything we can to organise more international races in the GCC. Maybe in the future we can organise a Gulf competition. We see a lot of expat kids who are excellent skiers, but every year we see a little more attention from the locals.’

Andreas reveals that his main challenge is spreading the word about the club. ‘People are still surprised there is a ski club here. Most of the time, you say “Dubai Ski Club” and they write “Dubai Sky Club” instead,’ he explains. ‘The surprise is not that we’re in a country where it doesn’t snow, because they can make snow. The surprise is that a sport can be popular even when they have no connection with it here. It was a brave move to build the indoor slope, and it has been very successful – the worldwide attention that it got for Dubai was tremendous.’

Fancy trying your hand at skiing for the first time? Andreas says Ski Dubai is the ideal place to learn. ‘The facility is perfect for training because you can always guarantee excellent weather,’ he adds. ‘It means when people go for their first skiing holiday in Lebanon or Europe, they can already ski.’

The club’s next meeting is on Saturday June 25. To get involved or for more information, see www.dubaiskiclub.com

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